I first heard Rush Limbaugh on the radio when I was a graduate student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The radio station I usually played in my car bored me one afternoon, on my way to campus, so I found another. He happened to be on it. I’d never heard of him — and was “Rush” even a name?
I had a degree in Political Science by then. I’d worked on several political campaigns and interned at the US Senate. I had even been the token conservative on the op/ed page of an off-campus weekly newspaper. So I wasn’t new to politics and government. More to the point, I had devoured Ronald Reagan’s daily radio spots in the 1970s. Morning after morning the future president talked political sense, and he was, of course, charming and well spoken.
Not Everyone’s Cup of Tea — But Usually Mine
By comparison, Rush was brazen, bombastic, and sometimes completely over the top. He held forth for hours at a time, not just minutes. He was also entertaining – outright funny – in a way I haven’t found in other talk radio personalities. I quickly appreciated that his overblown radio persona was a way of poking fun at Rush Limbaugh, a way of not taking life too seriously. This allowed me to enjoy it, rather than despise him for it.
When he referred to himself with the now-familiar phrase, “Talent on loan from God,” it didn’t send me ’round the bend, as it did others. I took it as humility. If I have any talent for anything, it’s on loan from God too, rather like the air I breathe.
The big draw for me was more substantive. He was the first person I’d heard on the radio since Reagan who talked day after day like an intelligent, consistent, committed conservative. I sometimes disagreed with him or wished he hadn’t said something the way he said it. But I never questioned his sincerity — a rare thing to sustain in politics and media — and on his many good days he was a more astute analyst of the political scene than Sean Hannity or anyone else I’ve heard in conservative talk radio. He was a better analyst than most in the chattering and scribbling classes at large, and his thoughts were typically worth hearing.
We Weren’t Alone
Over the years there was something else, for me and many others, especially at times when conservatives had reason to be disappointed and even discouraged. It was not a small thing.
It’s easy for conservatives to feel isolated politically. This is especially true in defeat, but it’s true enough on an average day, amid relentless media, cultural, academic, and official disdain and misrepresentation of conservative people and their views and values. For more than thirty years, Rush Limbaugh was a brilliant antidote to that isolation.
A Heroic, Graceful End
My work schedule didn’t allow me to listen to his show much in recent years. But for the past year, knowing his days were numbered, I made a point to tune in for a few minutes when I could, when he was at the mic between cancer treatments and their aftermath. He was as good as ever – and it wasn’t fundamentally about him any more than it had been before. It was about freedom, a free people, a free nation, and everything it takes to stay that way — especially in the face of powerful people and movements with the opposite agenda.
He chose to spend his last year serving his audience, working when he could, advocating the cause with surprising vigor. He didn’t need the money; surely he didn’t need the grief. He could have done something else with the time he had left. He responded to his own mortality with dignity, strength, and perhaps his hardest work of all. For that he has even more of my admiration and appreciation.
I mourn his passing.
“Talent returned to God,” wrote Mark Steyn. Indeed.
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